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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What is composting? How is it beneficial??

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Introduction
 The natural or artificial process of digestion to decompose the organic matter or the organic waste and to kill pathogens is called as composting. -In fact, composting is the process of decay or decomposition of organic biodegradable wastes through the activities of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi and worms. The organic wastes used for composting may be food leftovers, plant materials (crop residues and garden refuses), excretory matter, wood fibres, paper etc. 

 The process of composting may either be brought about in the presence of oxygen (the aerobic composting) or in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic composting). In nature, the process of decay occurs through the process of biodegradation of different organic matter. It occurs on the floor of forests and in swamps. The process of decomposition or biodegradation of leaf-litter on the floor of forests occurs in the presence of air; hence it is of aerobic type. On contrary, the process of biodegradation of organic matter in swamps occurs in the absence of air; hence it is of anaerobic type. 

The composting of wastes by man is done according to a well-planned programme. Through this programme biodegradable organic wastes are converted into manure (the compost) which is very useful for crops. Thus, compost or the manure may also be defined as a partially decomposed organic matter used in gardening to improve soil and enhance plant-growth, is called as compost (or manure).

 The average time needed for composting is about 1 to 6 months but the commercial composting takes from 3 to 7 days only. It is because mechanical aerators and digesters are used in this type of composting. A very high temperature is produced (about 80°C) automatically in the aerobic composting. It kills most of the seeds of grasses, as well as larvae and pupae of insects. 

 In India, about 410 million tonnes of manure is produced every year from the organic waste produced by its bovine population. The only draw back of this method is locking up of land (already under severe pressure) for a long gestation period.

Methods of Composting
(i) Digging compost pits measuring 1/2 metre wide, 1 metre deep and as long as needed.
(ii) The pulverisation of biodegradable wastes (segregated earlier), by hammer mills.
(iii) Blending waste plant-products like dry leaves etc. and animal dung with the compostable waste and filling the compost pit with this mixture of wastes.
(iv). Covering the upper surface of filled compost pit with a fine layer of soil and watering it once in a week, to ensure 50% humidity. 


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Benefits of Composting
We get many benefits from composting and some very important benefits are mentioned below:
(i) Composting removes biodegradable wastes that otherwise, produce germs of diseases and cause serious hazards.
(ii) Through composting the useless materials are converted into most useful manures that if mixed properly in soil, increase production of different types of crops.
(iii) Through composting the volume of wastes to be transported to landfill sites is reduced considerably.
(iv). Composting of wastes puts back the nutrients into the soil through recycling them.
(v) Composting reduces the expenses of farmers on raising crop-production through purchase of synthetic fertilizers. 

Compost is used for raising nurseries of different types of crop and non-crop plants. It is also used as a soil conditioner in grass lawns. 

Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that enriches soil. It is a process of recycling your kitchen and garden wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal.

Composting is not a new idea. In the natural world, composting is what happens as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, nutrients from the rotting leaves are reclaimed by living roots. This completes nature’s recycling process.

How old is the composting practice?
It is as old as man. Some cultures practiced it more than others. In recent times its advantages have made it an important part of agricultural practice world wide. It is gaining recognition as a safe method to regenerate the earth.

What is compost?
Compost is dark in colour, sweet smelling and nutrient rich material. Compost is more than just an important addition to soil – it is absolutely crucial. Compost is a material created by nature.

History of the practice of composting
It is as old as man. Some cultures practiced it more than others. In recent times its advantages have made it an important part of agricultural practice world wide. It is gaining recognition as a safe method to regenerate the earth.

Are there different kinds of composting?
Yes, there are three kinds of composting;
1. Aerobic composting (composting with air – in the presence of oxygen)- Daily Dump uses this process.
2. Anaerobic composting (composting without air – in sealed spaces)
3. Vermicomposting (composting that is speeded up by earthworms)
anaerobic composting:

organic materials + water = carbon dioxide + methane + hydrogen sulfide + energy
aerobic composting:organic materials + oxygen + water = carbon dioxide + water + energy

 Composting and Recycling
Because compost is nature’s way of recycling nutrients, it is considered as as a process of recycling of biodegradable matter.

Understanding compost
Good composting is a matter of providing proper environmental conditions for microbial life. Compost is made by billions of microbes (fungi, bacteria, etc.) that digest garden and kitchen wastes that you provide them. If the pile is cool enough, worms, insects and their relatives will help out the microbes. However, like people, these living things need air, water and food. If you maintain your pile to provide for their needs, they'll happily turn your garden and kitchen wastes into compost much more quickly. We should keep in mind the following basic ideas while managing the piles in your Daily Dump products:

Air
Composting microbes are aerobic - they can't do their work well unless they are provided with air. Without air, anaerobic (non-air needing) microbes take over the pile. They do cause slow decomposition, but the pile tends to smell like putrefying garbage! For this reason, it's important to regularly stir your pile.

Some compost ingredients, such as green grass clippings or wet fruits and vegetables, mat down very easily into slimy layers that air cannot get through. Other ingredients, such as straw, shredded paper or dried leaves, are very helpful in allowing air into the center of a pile. To make sure that you have adequate aeration for your pile and its microbes, thoroughly break up or mix in any ingredients that might mat down and exclude air.

Water
Ideally, your pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge to fit the needs of compost microbes. This means that there is a thin film of water coating every particle in the pile, making it very easy for microbes to disperse themselves. If your pile is drier than this, it won't be very good microbial habitat and composting will be significantly slower. If your pile is a great deal wetter, the sodden ingredients will be so heavy that they will tend to mat down and exclude air from the pile, again slowing the composting process (and perhaps creating anaerobic odor problems).

Fruit and vegetable wastes generally have plenty of moisture, as do fresh green grass clippings and garden trimmings. In hot, dry climates, it may be necessary to water your pile occasionally to maintain proper moisture. If you are using dry ingredients, such as dried leaves or straw, you'll need to moisten them as you add them to the pile.

Food
In broad terms, there are two major kinds of food that composting microbes need:
'Browns' are dry and dead plant materials such as straw, dry brown weeds, leaves and twigs. These materials are primarily composed of chemicals that are long chains of sugar molecules linked together. Browns are a source of carbon and energy for compost microbes.

'Greens' are fresh plant materials such as green leaves and garden clippings, kitchen, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc. Compared to browns, greens contain more nitrogen which is a critical element in amino acids and proteins. So greens can be thought of as a protein source for the billions of multiplying microbes.

Browns, tend to be bulky and promote good aeration. Greens, on the other hand, are typically high in moisture, and balance out the dry nature of the browns. A good mix of browns and greens forms the best nutritional balance for microbes. This mix also helps maintain aeration and moisture levels in the pile.
Process of composting and weather:                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (Does the weather affect the composting process?)
Yes, compost happens faster in warm weather. Our Indian weather is ideal for composting in most parts of the country. We just have to make sure that the moisture is right in places where it gets too hot and dry. 

Composting and the Earth
Research shows that harmful emissions are reduced if large volumes of organic waste are scientifically managed and converted to compost. The resultant compost is very rich in nutrients for the earth and replenishes top soil without adverse side effects.

Also composting reduces your volume of waste that you throw out. After you convert your organic waste into compost, you can reuse the compost in your garden. There the compost recycles nutrients back into the soil and plant life. Increased plant growth helps to restore the green cover of your neighborhood. This way composting benefits the earth.

Benefits of compost to soil
Compost benefits the soil by recycling nutrients into it. It improves soil structure, texture and aeration along with its water holding capacity. It loosens clayey soil and increases water retention in sandy soil. It encourages healthy and abundant root development; plants grow with more resistance to disease and pests in the long run. 

Advantages of composting
(I). Compost increases organic matter in soils
(II).Compost builds sound root structure
(III).Compost makes clay soils airy so they drain
(IV). Compost gives sandy soils body to hold moisture
(V). Compost attracts and feeds earthworms
(VI). Compost balances pH (acidity/alkalinity) of soil
(VI).Compost reduces water demands of plants and trees
(VII). Compost helps control soil erosion
(VIII). Compost reduces plant stress from drought and freezes
(IX). Compost can extend the growing season
(X). Compost improves vitamin and mineral content in food grown in compost-rich soils
(XI). Compost generously applied replaces reliance upon petrochemical fertilizers

Image : courtesy Flikr

Key Words : composting, fibre, biodegradation, soil, drought,  petrochemical fertilizers, soil erosion,

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